HONOLULU - The flu season on mainland continues to rapidly spread to near-epidemic levels, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So far the flu is already widespread in 46 states, but currently here in Hawaii it's not as severe. 

"When we do see rise in flu activity, we do tend to see it lagging behind the mainland a little bit.. Maybe about a month, two months behind," Dr. Sarah Park, State Epidemiologist said. 

More cases of the H3N2 strain of the virus are circulating on the mainland this season, according to the CDC. 

"The H3N2 strains -- that whole sub-type are known historically to cause more severe disease," Park said.

While the state adds that it's too early to tell how Hawaii will fair this flu season, over at Queen's Medical Center on Oahu, Dr. Rick Bruno says their emergency room has been taking in more patients already.

"We've been busy, the emergency department is packed right now, many of these cases are related to flu. There are times when we are stretched," Bruno said. 

Dr. Bruno says to be able to handle the increase of patients during flu season, the hospital typically increases staffing. 

Meanwhile, state health officials are urging the public to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. Although there were reports that said the flu vaccination was only 10 percent effective, the CDC clarifies that number does not necessarily apply to the U.S. The state epidemiologist adds its too early to tell how effective the flu vaccination will be this season.

"We know it's something that's been effective in the past in preventing flu and it's our best defense in preventing flu," Bruno added.

Dr. Bruno says that it is never too late to get the flu vaccination, especially in Hawaii where the flu virus tends to be year-round. Other ways to prevent getting or spreading the flu health officials say are common sense: wash your hands, cover your cough and to stay home if you feel sick.

"It's early in the flu season and we don't know... and we don't know if this is going to be one of those years where it's an epidemic year," Park said. ?